by order

Koto Bolofo for Margaret Howell

Last month, I visited Fevrier 28, a showroom that houses Edwin Neo, the man behind ed et al, a line of bespoke and RTW shoes that's been getting a fair bit of buzz in Singapore, and Kevin Seah, a well-known bespoke tailor in Singapore. (It's run by photographer Dominic Khoo, and houses his gallery and a small café where I saw Kinfolk magazine for the first ever in person.)

It was one of those rare occasions where looking at clothes and shoes didn't at all involve “fashion” as I know it. It was refreshing to look at clothes and shoes without the lens of trends and marketing. Even shopping at my favourite labels in the past have never been free of this feeling – I was always conscious of being sold and marketed something. But looking at those shoes and listening to Edwin to talk about his passion for what he does – it was a world away from my usual shoe-buying experience, to put it mildly.

Say "bespoke" and I think "expensive" and "elite". But there's a rather sensible element to this. The bespoke services I mentioned are by appointment only. That didn't sound very welcoming at first, but later I realised it made good sense – you don't go in unless you actually want or need something. It was a world far away from mindless shopping and impulse purchases.

And then there's the quality of what I was looking at. I don't see myself exclusively buying $2,000 shoes from now on, but seeing really, really beautifully done things has a way of casting most fast fashion in less flattering light.

No one needs a hand-tailored jacket. Or hand-welted shoes. But I would love to buy my clothes like this: have a long chat about style, fabric, fit, finishings, where the materials are coming from, be measured to an inch of my life, and know that someone will spend the next three months or so putting my item together. Compare this to how I have been, in the past, willing to spend four figures on a handbag made by someone I will likely never meet.

Picture from Margaret Howell 


Alice said…
thats an interesting way of thinking of things! i definitely feel marketing towards all the time but a "by appointment" tailor does seem kind of pretentious until you realize you wont go unless you are in need of something specifically.
Hila said…
I know exactly what you mean. I feel 'fashion' today simply lacks a human narrative. Instead, it's replaced by marketing and 'trends'. Which is why I'm bored with it all, and also feel manipulated by the whole industry. I compare it to my grandmother's work, when she used to create and sew costumes and clothes. The artistry that went into this work was also part of her own personal narrative as an immigrant in Israel. What we lack now is a real understanding of why someone creates something and how this fits with their identity and place. It's a shame, because I used to have such a deep interest in fashion. What a great post!
Ammu said…
Lovely post. Bespoke clothing and jewelry has been a big part of the Indian lifestyle - partly because ready to wear didn't emerge here until recently. After I moved back to the country 20 months ago, I got three bespoke trousers made by a designer friend of mine and the whole experience made me rethink the process of shopping. We came up with the design together and the process took a few weeks. I haven't felt the need to acquire any more trousers after those three, never mind the trends. In my experience, once you have the "perfect" something, you don't feel the need to try out new things so much. I am getting there!
lin said…
Alice: I couldn't help thinking it seemed pretentious too - I think I was thinking of a particular kind of rich people who see bespoke as yet another status symbol. And yet if we're not talking about the top end of the price bracket, getting a few classic items made for you to last a long time seems like a less wasteful approach.

Hila: Exactly. It's so much more inspiring to by from someone whose vision and inspiration you know something about. I don't expect that of all my clothes, but I've decided the clothes I buy in future should be more meaningful that way. It's not a difficult goal since my clothing needs have been met anyway and I'm not really looking to buy more things.

Ammu: I would love to see these trousers myself someday, after all the times you've raved about them. My mother used to have her clothes made for her because she was considered tall for her generation and dept stores simply didn't carry things that fit well - I think that made new clothes such a careful, thoughtful and pleasurable occasion for her, compared to now. She's far prouder of those older items than her newer things.
I've been thinking of the same thing as well! Sometimes I wonder why I'm so eager to give my hard earned money to people who don't even know I exist. I think part of it is that when you buy a brand you're immersing yourself into an idealized image, but when something's bespoke, while you are in a sense joining a relatively exclusive community, it just doesn't seem to have that same imaginative allure for a lot of people.
Ammu said…
Come and visit me in Delhi - I will introduce you to the designer :)

Interesting point raised by ACrispWhiteShirt - to be honest I wonder if a lot of this has to do with a desire to show off a brand rather than appreciate the inherent qualities of one's purchases. There were times when I used to be drawn to something and would wonder if I would be as interested if it were unbranded. It happens less and less now, partly because India has a wealth of beautiful, inexpensive handmade objects with no brand whatsoever. The bonus is that you occasionally get to meet the person who actually made your shoes or trousers.
RoseAG said…
Watching the news with the American Presidential race and seeing the snarky things the press says about what the wives wear makes me think that if I were a political wife I would have my clothes custom-made.

Then some junior reporter out to make a name for themselves wouldn't be able to smear me by looking up what I had on and announcing the price to everyone.
lin said…
A Crisp White Shirt: Good point. I suppose there is safety in brand recognition; you spend a lot of money and the brand is a safety net providing the minimum of a status symbol. Plus, some brands has such a great, storied history that the romance is too good to resist (Dior, Hermes, Chanel).

But bespoke is also sometimes a status symbol among the very rich, eg, the likes of John Lobb. So I guess there's a kind of reverse snobbery among some, the appeal of something that's only recognisable to those in the know. So we can't get away from brands and name-dropping, hahaha.

Ammu: I will! You'll be first to know when I finally make a trip to India.

I agree, and I am still influenced by a "name", though less so now. It's an easy heuristic, a way of cutting through the market but it turns out we can't really trust brands...

RoseAG: Good point, haha. Although they probably should stay away from Savile Row and $6000 bespoke suits...
Anonymous said…
Such an ideal!
And the contrast to how/what we normally consume is such an extreme. The way in which we consume things is really a perversion of any healthy acquisition.
In the long run, I am inclined to believe that this more involved, more personal approach would be less costly - to us, to the planet.
lin said…
editor: I think so to some extent too (because some people can afford to be excessive this way as well). At the very least it forces us to slow down and make very considered, deliberate decisions.

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